Less concerned with who’s first up against the wall than with how to decorate it

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. K. Jones
    October 2, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

    I am becoming utterly convinced that James T. Kirk is a magician. But it's hard to separate his magic as a distinct written entity, evidently aware of the narrative, from Shatner's performance of him; his power of plot metamorphosis is so rooted in writers who are writing things based on Shatner's strength of humanity.

    Actually, while at the time it likely had a bit of a counter-culture element, America has always held its nonfictional outlaws with folk hero reverence. It's interesting to think about, because everyone in the later generations of Star Trek always seem to hold that same outlaw folk hero reverence for Kirk; the renegade star-captain who could get away with anything, the folk hero captain with the country doctor, Scottish miracle worker and the half-human vulcanian. The time travel abuser. The man who made first contact with the Gorn by sparing their captain's life in a deathmatch.

    My memories of "Spectre" are as shallow as the facades of the Melkotian Tombstone. I never could figure out why the heroes were depicted as the Clantons, not the Earps.

    But there is certainly a whiff of magic here. A space race so rare, they're near mythic to passing freighter crews. The Melkotian's form is practically that of a ghost, and conjures a town called Tombstone from Kirk's memories.

    The death-knell rang. The show is dead on its feet, the final great episodes vestigial.


  2. Jack Graham
    October 5, 2013 @ 3:19 am

    How interesting that, at more-or-less the exact same time, The Prisoner also did a 'Western' episode in which forces controlling the scenario as a kind of hallucinatory deadly theatre try to force the hero to become a killer. At the height of post-war social struggle, the foundational myth of America (the Wild West) becomes an ideological arena in which forces using and manipulating the ideology attempt to reshape the moral agent as a killer trapped inside a seemingly inescapable historical/narrative propulsion towards violence.


  3. Alex Wilcock
    October 9, 2013 @ 1:47 am

    This might be my favourite of your review-plus-background-detail-I-didn’t-knows so far: real-life metaphor “The Last Chance Saloon” as “The Trial of a Time Lord” two decades early. Terrific diegetic and extra-diegetic analysis.

    It’s always been one I was very fond of – a lasting memory from childhood, because a touch of weird horror always appealed (great title, too) – and, following Jack ‘champion of weird horror’ Graham’s comment above I’ve long meant to write a three-in-one review of The Gunfighters, Spectre of the Gun and Living In Harmony. But I’ve not got round to it, so can’t link to one I prepared earlier. Sorry.

    Each of the three stories on their own is weird. Taken together, they’re much weirder, as they seem to be doing what you’d expect each other’s series to be doing. Most blatantly, Spectre of the Gun seems more The Prisoner than The Prisoner – almost Brechtian. As a boy, I often thought Star Trek looked fake, but even very young this one was curiously exciting because I could tell it was meant to be fake, and that engaged me in wondering why.

    And considering that the Prisoner version is supposed to have been banned in the US because of drug references, note how Scottie’s not just on the local rotgut, but very keen to sniff the trank gas too.

    The brilliant thing about Spectre of the Gun is that it’s not at all like The Gunfighters in any surface way, but that both are so similarly unexpected. You’d think a Doctor Who version would be either strictly realist, and doom-laden, and properly ‘historical’ – The Massacre, remade in Tombstone – or very stylised and theatrical, like The Celestial Toymaker. Instead, it ambitiously aims to look the part, which it clearly can’t, then does it as a comedy pastiche of the Western genre.

    And a Star Trek version should be even more predictable: like those interminable Season One ‘parallel development’ stories, they’d simply do it on the back lot. Using the abundance of Western sets and South Californian sun is the most obvious thing in the world for an American show in the ’60s. And then they don’t, at all – they make a virtue of saying, ‘We could make this exactly right, and you know it, so we’re going to make it exactly wrong and on stage’.

    So the Doctor Who version chooses to do what Star Trek could effortlessly have managed with their available resources in the style of A Piece of the Action, while the Star Trek version chooses to do what Doctor Who could effortlessly have managed with their available resources in the style of The Celestial Toymaker or, by that time, The Mind Robber (which it resembles in meaning, though the Who story it’s closest to in alienated tone is The Edge of Destruction). And The Prisoner does a mixture of both.


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